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Johnny-Come-Lately in the Golden Age of Television

August 26, 2013
tv binge pic

Illustration by Kiersten Essenpreis

It started with Buffy. No, it started with X-Files. No wait, it started with Star Trek: The Next Generation. It happened with LOST and Battlestar Galactica, probably half a dozen others, and now I’m doing it with Breaking Bad. With all these series, I was late to start watching, and though the reason always varied slightly it mostly boiled down to me finding the premise either underwhelming or unsure it would sustain itself beyond one season. But then a tipping point is reached – enough friends talking about staying up late with marathons, enough seasons get under the show’s belt with steady growing ratings, enough critics are writing about it.  Though sometimes it’s as simple as catching one episode on my own by accident and getting sucked in enough to watch more.

So I start watching. For ST:TNG, I had the benefit of syndication – every night at 7 pm while in high school they aired an episode. At 20 episodes a month, I could get through 3 seasons in the summer alone, while watching new episodes air every Sunday night. X-Files got syndicated while in college, I started watching it in the same manner – half a dozen old episodes during the week, one fresh new one on the weekend. Buffy was the first TV show I watched via Netflix discs, watching their origin stories via seasons 1 and 2 in-between watching them battling Glory every week ‘real-time’.  I followed this pattern with Angel too.

Battlestar Galactica was the first time this habit happened with a cable show, which threw a wrench into the plan – with LOST I could even tune in via antenna or watch it on the website, but I wasn’t going to sign up for cable just to get Syfy (fka plain ole Sci-Fi) and feed my addiction. I would, however, cruise megaupload sites to watch the final season, frequently cursing the 60 minute time limits or hurridly closing windows before viruses got downloaded in my quest. I’ve never been one to torrent, because I already was eating up my computer memory with 10,000+ mp3s, I couldn’t start adding videos to the mix.

Despite the cursing and frustration that comes with the searching for online streams online (or even plunking down the $2 to buy an ep from iTunes), it’s worth it to me for the experience of watching the final season of a show ‘live’ with the rest of the world. I like participating in popular cultural events, it’s part of why I watch the Oscars every year and other random awards shows, it’s also part of the appeal of Dancing With the Stars. One season I was missing the finale of DWTS because of traveling and my father kindly recorded it for me on their DVR, but it just didn’t feel the same watching it 18 hours later, even if I could fast-forward through commercials. I wanted the collective conscious energy of every other household in the world who was tuning in with suspense, worry, scorn, shock, frustration, tears, and laughter.

So while I do enjoy the new Netflix formula of releasing entire seasons at once, allowing me to binge whenever my schedule allows, I hope I never have to quit being a Johnny-come-lately who watches 5 seasons of a show in 3 months specifically so I can tune in with everyone else week-to-week for the series conclusion. Even if I’m frequently disappointed by the endings (looking at you, LOST and BSG), at least we can share in the experience together.

P.S. #TeamSkyler

skyler white breaking bad

5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 26, 2013 8:13 pm

    There’s a lot not to love about Breaking Bad, but I keep watching it as much to keep up with the internet memes and facebook status updates as for the characters or the plot.

  2. August 26, 2013 9:19 pm

    It’s true, nearly all the shows I mentioned in the post aren’t my all-time favorite shows (well, except for St:TNG) and I also wouldn’t fight for many of them to be included on the best TV shows of all time list either – much like the live TV events I mention, it’s more about the pleasure of participating actively in the zeitgeist.

  3. August 27, 2013 2:47 pm

    Totally get this – I seem to need some critical mass of “buzz” (and a degree of security that a new found binky won’t be pulled prematurely) before I’ll invest in a TV series.

    The proliferation of blogs with discussion threads for shows adds another layer of procrastination. It was definitely Snarky’s series on HLOTS and Grey’s Anatomy that launched me down the path of vicariously enjoying TV shows via the commentary of others. Now I’ll read along for a whole season, before I jump in. Though sometimes these threads are the internet equivalent of MST3king an entire series (case in point The Walking Thread @ Shakesville).

    But any way you look at it, the ‘net seems to be a necessary adjunct to TV consumption these days.

  4. August 28, 2013 10:11 am

    There is something magical about a show whose time has finally come for you. Despite being a big ST fan it wasn’t until last year that I actually sat down and watched all the shows that came after the original. Yes, I’d seen all the films and loved the universe, but i wasn’t until I spent time with Picard, Riker, Data, Dax, Sisko, Jake, Janaway and the rest of the family (in episodic form) did its legacy truly reveal itself in full glory.

    Netflix has introduced me to some tasty treats I missed: Leverage, Pretty Little Liars, Damages, Doc Martin, Longmire… but the one that most resembles the phenom you’ve discussed is EUREKA. stumbled onto it and BINGED like whoa. Watched the last season live and it was fun to have a regular show that was ACTUALLY on TV.

  5. August 30, 2013 10:04 am

    I’m the same. Never been much for the Zeitgeist but as a late TV bloomer I’m always surprised to find friends who watched the older shows I’m not in to- and who are delighted to be able to still talk about it with somebody going through the brand new viewing experience 🙂

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